With this talk about the Miami Heat and how they were going to 82-0 (yes, there are really are crazy people out there), people immediately pegged them as kings of the Eastern Conference. Orlando? No way. Chicago? Nope. Boston? Ha! No way! They're too old and on the decline! Last year was it for them!
The Celtics are now 5-1, after beating the Chicago Bulls 110-105 in overtime. The Celtics have now knocked off two big East opponents (Miami and Chicago), and have easily recovered from that unsettling loss to the Cavs the night after beating the Heat.
The Celts have shown that anyone looking to get to the NBA Finals that they'll have to take trip up I-95 or a cruise down I-90 and pass through Boston. Until someone can dispose of them in the playoffs, they are still the top dog in the East. Let's take a look at what the Celtics have going for them.
It seems that every preseason the punditocracy has to bring up the age of the Big Three. Yes, they are getting older, and yes, it's a shame that Pierce, Garnett, and Allen couldn't have been on the same team earlier in their careers.
But the reality is this: they are playing together now, and they've won a championship and gone deep in the playoffs together. They know they can win, and win a whole lot.
While it is true that these guys are getting older and won't be able to do the things they did five years ago, they're still in good shape and, despite it being early in the season, injury free.
They have a whole lot of playoff experience behind them, and they know what it takes to get to, and through the playoffs.
Even though they may appear sluggish during the regular season (as we saw for a large portion of last year), they're simply taking it easy, waiting in the wings as the young guns slug it out for 82 games. When it means the most, you know the Big Three will be ready.
Yes, readers, that was an EXTREMELY bad comparison in the title. But it's true, at least in a figurative sense. The newly christened Boston Bench Mob is very strong this year. Glen Davis is leading the way, finally finding his place on the team after lingering questions during the preseason.
So far, it seems like he can come off the bench and get a good score. He's been working on his base-line jumper, and it shows. He can also get down low and bank it in. It seems that this year there's no stopping the Player Formerly Known as Big Baby.
Davis isn't the whole story, however. Nate Robinson is entering his first full season in Boston, and is working toward being a more pure backup point guard. His three-point isn't too shabby either, and he often fires the team up after a big shot in a close game.
Marquis Daniels is quickly coming into his own, with nice agility and quick cuts to the hoop. Semih Erden, although still struggling to find his niche, has shown some flashes of brilliance, with a good post presence in terms of rebounding.
And, of course, we could never forget the Big Shamrock. Shaquille O'Neal, after all these years, still has his hops, and can still pull down big rebounds.
Although he's experienced age and injury-related decline over the past several seasons, he can still score down low, and draw a whole bunch of fouls. I realize he's out with a bruised right knee, but if he can get healthy for the stretch run, he can and will contribute.
It's interesting that this quality arises out of what may prove to be a severe disadvantage. The Celtics have had problems as of late with closing out games in the fourth quarter, often blowing solid leads and forcing themselves to play harder then they should have to. Again, it's early in the season, but Boston has shown that they can step it up late to save the game.
Sometimes it takes overtime, other times just a huge play with time winding down. Whatever it takes, the Celts have so far been able to stifle any run their opponent might have.
Against Chicago, with the scored tied at 103-all in overtime, the Green Machine found a way to win, with key shots by Paul Pierce (with yet another assist from Rajon Rondo), a killer slam dunk by Ray Allen off a no-look pass from Paul Pierce, and steal by Kevin Garnett and two free throws by Glen Davis to seal the deal once more.
The Celtics shouldn't have to face this every single game, especially entering a grueling road trip, but these guys continue to show that they can pull the pedal to the metal and push the offense into scoring in the clutch.
It goes without saying that Rajon Rondo as emerged as the real leader on the floor.
He makes almost everything look easy, whether it's dishing to the corners for a Ray Allen three, firing down low to Garnett, Davis, or the O'Neals, stealing passes, grabbing loose balls, or just taking it to the hole himself and laying it in.
Rondo officially runs this offense. Opposing point guards best take notice.
Rondo is already poised to lead this team deep into the playoffs this year, as he did last year. After six games, Rajon Rondo has shown his poise and control, especially in close games. If there's a way to score, Rondo finds it.
He's finally come into his own after years of slowly but surely developing his game. He's ready for another run, and he's showing it already.
After last year's bitter defeat to the Lakers in the Finals, many Boston fans were left wondering whether the Celtics' championship had just been slammed shut.
With uncertainty over head coach Doc Rivers' future with the team, the widespread fear of a major decline in ability by the Big Three, and a shaky bench that didn't always step up in tight games, many observers, and maybe the players themselves, thought that they had finished their run and it was time to pack it in and hang on for as long as they could.
Not so with this team.
It seems like this is group of guys that refuses to accept their fate. Eventually, they'll all go downhill and won't contend anymore, but the Celtics refuse to envision that day. They seem to play with a fire inside, with the season veterans leading the way and bringing the young guns.
This Boston squad is united in a quest to prove that they can win it all at least one more time, at least the Big Three calls it quits.
They must prove it to not fans, but themselves, and seem dead-set on doing so this year. These guys want it bad. So look out, Eastern Conference.
And look out, LA.
Go Green 18!